The Marmotte Diary : Day 1

Oh God. I’ve done it. Well, I’ve not actually entered it yet. But only because entries don’t open for a while. But I’ve done everything else. Booked the accommodation (well, Jon did, our base in Bourg D’Oisans). I’ve booked the flights. I’ve looked at bike boxes. I’ve decided how to get to Heathrow. And in making this diary public I can’t back out. Well, not unless my GP decides against giving me a medical certificate. Perhaps if I tell him just how hard it is, he’ll oblige.

I did back out last year. For a variety of boring and mundane reasons but also a bit of fear. But, well, screw you fear. I mean, it’s only 174km and 5000m of climbing. Post Brexit remember that’s only a shade over 100 miles and 16,000 feet. Jon’s Strava has his Marmotte at 18,300ft this year. That’s more accurate it would appear. But, hey, I did 1000ft of climbing on my 20 mile commute to work today, how hard can it possibly be?

The answer is, brutal. Brutal in isolation, brutal depending on the weather. And, really, the weather is as the weather is. Wet and windy and it’s going to be horrible. Cold? Well, at least that’ll keep you cool. Warm and dry? That presents its own problems. The ideal conditions for the Marmotte do exist, but you’d have to be very lucky to get them. It’s been wet, it’s been baking. No to either I say, but you can’t choose. All you can do is hope.

But, I’m in now. No backing out. So an autumn and winter of hill repeats and upping fitness beckons.

The Marmotte is a challenge. Unlike the Etape du Tour, it remains the same year on year. It starts in Bourg D’Oisans at the foot of Alp d’Huez. The “route is considered to be one of the hardest of any cyclosportive and comparable to the most challenging high mountain stages of the Tour De France.” So says Wiki and, why the hell am I doing this again?

Climbs? Iconic. Glandon, Telegraph, Galibier, Alp d’Huez. F**k. I mean, just look at that. If you know cycling you know that four. This isn’t a ride with some random Tour now and again climbs chucked in. It’s the iconic stuff. Being done by a 45 year old bloke who’s never cycled outside Wales. That, in itself, is odd. I’ve done absolutely loads of cycling of many different disciplines but never ventured out of the country on a bike. Probably because Wales has pretty much all you need on a bike. Apart from that romanticism, apart from that draw, it’s France, it’s the Alpes, it’s the Tour.

So, the Marmotte.

Starting in Bourg D’Oisans, the first climb begins about 8km in. Since we’re abroad we will be using the metric system. From there the climbing starts. Le Rivier becomes the Col de Glandon. 700 metres at the start to 1920 metres at the 35km point. Then it’s downhill for, well, ages and ages before the hard(er) stuff starts in earnest.

At the 80km-110km mark it’s the business end. The climbs of the Telegraph and Galibier. A climb of almost 2000m in 30km. Which should tickle the legs somewhat. Then back downhill into Bourg D’Oisans (with some bumps along the way) to prepare for the climb to Alp D’Huez. Nowhere near the height of the Galibier or Glandon and you start from a higher place. But, at that point, I am reliably informed that you’re done in. Switchback, switchback, rest, switchback, throw self in river, get on, finish. Oh, there’s a cut off too, if you don’t get to the Alp d’Huez by a certain time then you’re done. Well, they will let you finish, but your chip gets removed and you’re into the realms of DNF. But, if it’s on Strava..

So, training begins in earnest. Alcohol will have to go at some point and be cut down some time soon (though not on holiday). Food will have to be carefully considered, weight will have to be dropped. I intend to be the lightest I’ve been on a bike before we kick off. Sub 80kg if possible. One of my riding partners, who got a gold time last year, will recommence his low (to no) carb diet. That’s not for me. Moderation is key. And there will be equipment choices, what stuff to take, what to wear, refuelling strategy, etc etc.

But it’s the training that will make all the difference. I’ll keep the commute, that’s base miles, keeps you going. It’s not flat, that helps. But there will have to be some serious investment in climbing. Stuff in the 10,000 ft range to even think about preparing. The Dragon Ride route should sort that out, 132 miles, 10,500 ft. But doing it once isn’t going to be enough, it will have to be done a few times. Perhaps even adding some more mountains at the end. CX over the winter will stay, it’s good for anaerobic and digging in for those extra minutes, but it’s short, 45 minutes, so I’ll need to be better at it to improve generally. Come winter and I’ll have to ignore the weather and climb mountains. Stay close to home, climb them multiple times. I’ll need a plan though, this is all too ad hoc. I’ll see what’s out there and keep updating the diary. I expect I’m going to learn a lot about myself.

But what’s really got me is the focus of actually booking stuff. I’m in now. There’s no turning back. This is a public statement of intent. Just under a year to go. It starts now.


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